We go to the 1:00 p.m. bath time at the river for the elephants. The day trippers and overnighters are there and it saddens me to see how ignorant they are regarding the history of the elephants and the purpose of their being here. The day trippers are there for one day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The overnighters are there from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the next day. There is a very clear divide between the volunteers and the one day and overnight visitors. We are pretty good at keeping quiet but we grit our teeth when they say something ignorant or stupid. They make a spectacle of themselves during their time there and are loud and inconsiderate.
Most of the elephants are in the river ready to be bathed. One of the elephants is waiting while her group decides to have a water fight instead, splashing their buckets at each other rather than bathing the elephants. It ends up she barely gets washed. Two other elephants, Jokia (blind in both eyes) and Mae Perm (her loyal friend -- elephants often 'adopt' each other to fulfill the need to care for another) are standing together when another group of day trippers, mostly American, are ignoring the rules of waiting for the mahouts permission for them to approach the elephants. They push forward touching the elephants trying to get their pictures taken with them, wagging their tongues and making the hang loose gesture as they get their pictures taken by friends. What ass clowns. Another one makes a comment, 'What a life. I wonder if someone would pay to bathe me,' with total disgust in his voice. And I look at the elephants, watch their eyes as they sense the commotion, and I wonder if they can tell the difference between those that here to help and understand and be humbled by them, and those that are here to get simply get their picture taken and earn some bragging rights.
The two who made the comment and gestures were American and it is embarrassing to see how poorly we are represented, but not all that surprising. Interestingly, our group (A) is all Australian, New Zealanders?, Canadian and European. Sabine and I have become quite close with them and have already formed a pretty tight bond. When Sabine and I said, 'ugly Americans', they looked at us and smiled. And told us that they were honestly quite surprised that we were American. They prefaced their explanations with an apology for the stereotyping and realizing that not all Americans have the stereotype. They said we broke the stereotype in being quiet (meaning not loud and offensive) and considerate, humble (as in not self centered) and not thinking that we were the shit. It made us both feel good and where we know that not all Americans are loud and offensive and think they're the shit, that it is a well deserved reputation that Americans have earned.
But the ignorance of these tourists at the sanctuary is not reserved to the Americans alone. I have written the Elephant Sanctuary and given them some constructive tactful advice on how to handle the tourists as opposed to the volunteers. In regards to the tourists, I think the elephant feedings at the platform are okay. They are supervised and separated by a bar. And the elephants love to eat, they spend 18 hours a day doing so. But the baths and walking through the fields with them? That's a privilege that they have not earned. The elephants look miserable during the commotion at the river with 400 hands touching them at once. There is a beautiful wood skywalk that tourists can observe all this from. Even volunteers have to go up there when the male elephants and babies go for the baths.
I understand Lek's reasons for offering this to the tourists, but tourists will still be willing to pay to visit. There are no other places like this yet, so the tourists will still come. She has pointed out that it is the tourists and the volunteers (who PAY for a working vacation - which is a.o.k. by us) that help provide the funds that she needs to maintain the sanctuary and start other rescue locations. But I believe tourists will still come to see this. In my heart of hearts I do. I think the elephants should come first, not the visitors and the ignorance that comes with it.